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What does a bar set up include?

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Adelaide

Dec. 06, 2023
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Maintaining a well-stocked bar can be an expensive endeavor. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely if stored correctly, so you can build your collection gradually without any worry of spoilage. We'll show you how to stock your bar at home, including a variety of spirits, mixers, garnishes, tools, glassware, and even storage options.

It's important to note that something is a "bar essential" only insofar as you use it. This list of essentials can be added to or subtracted from depending on how you plan to use your home bar. Consider some of your favorite, most-enjoyed cocktails, write down the ingredients and tools they require, and go from there.

Bar Toolkit

The number of bar tools and gadgets on the market is endless. Luckily, you can handle a majority of home bartending tasks with just a handful of tools, and we're willing to bet you already have quite a few in your kitchen right now.

1. Bottle Openers and Corkscrews

Chances are you've already got one, but a bottle opener is necessary for opening glass bottles of beer and various mixers. Many wine openers can also be used to open beer, and options range from your simple corkscrew to a do-it-all, electric wine opener.

  • Best Bottle Opener: OXO SteeL Stainless Steel Bottle and Can Opener, $19; amazon.com
  • Best Corkscrew: Chef Craft Waiters Corkscrew, $6; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Corkscrew and Bottle Opener Duo: Beneno Corkscrew Wine Bottle Opener, $15; amazon.com
  • Best Electric Wine Opener: Oster Cordless Electric Wine Bottle Opener with Foil Cutter, $35; amazon.com or target.com

2. Jiggers

A jigger is basically a mini measuring cup that helps you achieve exact measurements for your cocktails. A standard jigger is double-sided, with one side holding 1.5 ounces on its large side (the equivalent of one shot) and 0.75 to 1 ounces on its small side (or what's known as the pony shot).

But you'll also find Japanese-style jiggers, which are longer and skinnier, with one side typically measuring 2 ounces and the other measuring 1 ounce. You can even find literal mini measuring cups that some argue are much easier to read than traditional, double-sided jiggers. But at the end of the day, you really just need one.

  • Best Standard Jigger: OXO Steel Double Jigger $12; amazon.com
  • Best Japanese Jigger: Homestia Double Cocktail Japanese Jigger, $9; amazon.com
  • Best Measuring Cup Jigger: OXO Steel Angled Measuring Jigger, $10; amazon.com
  • Best Jigger Set: Tezzorio Set of 3 stainless Steel Double Jiggers, $14; amazon.com

3. Shakers and Strainers

A stainless steel cocktail shaker is the key to refreshingly chilled, shaken drinks. It can come in two forms: Boston-style and cobbler. The former is basically a metal tin that fits tightly over a pint glass so that it doesn't spill on you while you shake. Most professional bartenders use Boston-style because they're faster to use and easy to clean. But for at-home use, you may prefer to go with a cobbler, which is a one-piece shaker with a built-in strainer, eliminating the need for extra parts.

If you're using a Boston-style shaker, you'll need to use a Hawthorne strainer to prevent ice or any other solid ingredients from dropping into your glass. When you strain from a mixing glass, you'll need to use what's known as a Julep strainer. Some folks might choose to purchase a fine mesh strainer (sieve) to strain out ultra-fine ingredients like pulp.

  • Best Boston-Style Cocktail Shaker: Cresimo Professional Cocktail Shaker, $8; amazon.com
  • Best Cobbler Cocktail Shaker: Etens Cocktail Shaker, $10; amazon.com
  • Best Hawthorne Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer, $25; amazon.com
  • Best Julep Strainer: HIC Kitchen Julep Bar Strainer, $15; amazon.com
  • Best Fine Mesh Strainer/Sieve: OXO Steel Fine Mesh Cocktail Strainer, $18; amazon.com
  • Best Cocktail Strainer Set: Koviti 3 Piece Stainless Steel Cocktail Strainer Set, $18; amazon.com

4. Mixing Glasses and Spoons

A mixing glass is a designated glass for stirring cocktail ingredients. You can use another glass (like a pint glass) for this purpose, but a mixing glass can be an elegant and functional addition to any home bar.

Bar spoons are made with long handles specifically for stirring a mixed drink from the bottom of the glass to the top without splashing. You'll find some have smooth handles, which add extra weight, while others have textured, spiraled handles for easy grip.

  • Best Mixing Glass: Hiware Professional 24 oz Cocktail Mixing Glass, $16; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Spoon: A Bar Above Heavyweight Bar Spoons, Set of 2, $18; amazon.com

5. Ice Makers, Molds, and Buckets

Ice plays a crucial role in every cocktail you make. Skip the cloudy, odor-holding freezer ice, and instead invest in a few different ice molds and makers for making craft cocktails. Spirit-forward drinks (like a Manhattan or an old fashioned) are best served with large cubes and spheres because these take longer to melt, preventing the drink from diluting too quickly.

For your tiki drinks, juleps, or most drinks meant to be served in warmer climates, go with crushed or pebbled ice. This will not only keep the drink cool, but the sheer quantity of ice can help dilute the heavy syrups typically used in these drinks.

And finally, standard, one-inch-by-one-inch cubes are what you'll use for everything else. Even for drinks that aren't typically served with ice, standard ice cubes are excellent for shaking. Having a designated ice bucket and scoop is always handy for easy access when making cocktails or chilling wine.

  • Best Large Cube Ice Mold: Kitch Large Cube Silicone Ice Tray, $9; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Spherical Ice Mold: Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds, $12; amazon.com
  • Best Ice Mold Set: Ticent Ice Cube Trays (Set of 2), $10; amazon.com
  • Best Pebble Ice Maker: GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker, $499; amazon.com
  • Best Standard Ice Mold: Ozera 2 Pack Silicone Ice Cube Tray, $13; amazon.com
  • Best Ice Bucket and Scoop: Oggi Double-Wall Insulated Lid & Ice Scoop Ice Bucket, $45; amazon.com

6. Juicers, Cutting Boards, and Peelers

For fresh ingredients like juice, zest, or slices of fruit, there are a handful of tools you can purchase to help with prep work. Freshly squeezed citrus fruits are always going to be superior to their bottled counterparts, so we'd recommend having a handheld juicer on hand for easy juicing that gets the most juice from your fruit.

You'll also need to have a couple of small cutting boards on hand for prepping ingredients like herbs for muddling or citrus fruits for garnishes. For peeling citrus fruits and other ingredients for garnishes, a simple paring knife or vegetable peeler will do the trick.

  • Best Handheld Citrus Juicer: Chef'n (Lemon) FreshForce Citrus Juicer, $19; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Mini Plastic Cutting Board: San Jamar Saf-T-Grip Plastic Cutting Board, $11; amazon.com
  • Best Mini Bamboo Cutting Board: Brite Concepts Bamboo Cutting Board, $6; amazon.com
  • Best Paring Knife: HENCKELS Classic Razor-Sharp 4-inch Paring Knife, $25; amazon.com
  • Best Vegetable Peeler: Kuhn Rikon, Original 4-Inch Swiss Peeler, $9; amazon.com or walmart.com

Glassware

It's tempting to buy a different type of glass to go with each accompanying cocktail (like margarita glasses or martini glasses), but having two to three different sized glasses on hand will work for nearly any cocktail you could ever want to make. Plus, elegant cocktail glasses look stunning in a bar cart or cabinet.

1. Coupe Glasses

This multi-tasking cocktail glass will replace your champagne flutes, martini glasses, and margarita glasses. Their curved rim makes them less prone to spills than your typical martini glass.

  • Best Coupe Glasses: Libbey Signature Kentfield Coupe Cocktail Glasses, $45; amazon.com or walmart.com

2. Collins Glasses

These tall, skinny, straight glasses hold a lot of liquid, making them excellent for drinks with a lot of ice and mixer, like gin and tonics and, of course, Tom Collins.

  • Best Collins Glasses: LEMONSODA Premium Highball Glass Set, $25; amazon.com

3. Old Fashioned or Rocks Glasses

Named for its signature drink, the old fashioned glass (also called a rocks glass) is a short tumbler that's best for serving spirits neat or on the rocks, but it also works for some mixed drinks. We'd suggest buying a double rocks glass, which is slightly larger than a single, making it more versatile.

  • Best Rocks Glasses: LUXU Whiskey Glasses, $22; amazon.com

Bar Carts and Cabinets

Without a built-in home bar, you'll need somewhere to proudly store and display your growing liquor and bar collection. You don't have to drop thousands of dollars—you can find stylish, minimalistic bar carts for less than $100.

  • Best Overall Bar Cart: VASAGLE 3-Tier Kitchen Serving Bar Cart, $78; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Cart for Small Spaces: Novogratz Helix Bar Cart, $45; amazon.com, walmart.com, or wayfair.com
  • Best Overall Bar Cabinet: FATORRI Industrial Wine Bar Cabinet, $210; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Cabinet for Small Spaces: Boahaus Modern Mini Bar, $131; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Corner Bar Cabinet: Home Source Corner Bar Unit, $269; amazon.com

Essential Spirits

It's easy to get overwhelmed with the variety of liquors on the market, but rest assured, if you have these key ones, you're set up to make most standard cocktails.

And there's no need to splurge on top-shelf spirits for your collection (although you certainly can if that's your preference). In fact, plenty of bartenders don't use top-shelf liquor when crafting cocktails.

1. Gin

For classic gin cocktails like gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and of course, the original martini, gin is certainly an essential behind the bar.

  • Best Overall Gin: Tanqueray London Dry Gin, $26; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Budget Gin: Gordon's London Dry Gin, $11; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Top-Shelf Gin: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, $29; saucey.com or drizly.com or Gray Whale Gin, $36; drizly.com or saucey.com

2. Rum

Light rum (also known as white rum) is going to be the base of all sorts of tropical drinks like daiquiris, mojitos, pina coladas, mai tais, and more. Dark rum has been aged in oak barrels, unlike white rum, which is aged for a shorter amount of time in steel barrels. Dark rum can work in place of light rum, but note that it will bring a stronger, molasses-like flavor to these cocktails. Buy a smaller, secondary bottle of dark rum for use in bold cocktails like the Dark 'n' Stormy.

  • Best Overall Light Rum: Bacardi Superior White Rum, $15; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Overall Dark Rum: Gosling's Black Seal Rum, $25; drizly.com or saucey.com

3. Tequila

Keep a large, inexpensive bottle of unaged blanco, or "silver" tequila, on hand for use in tequila sunrises, margaritas, and other tequila-based cocktails. Tequila reposado, or "gold" tequila, is aged for a minimum of two months and up to 364 days, giving it a smooth, sweeter taste that's great for shots. Premium brands of añejo tequila, which is aged between one and three years, are better for sipping.

  • Best Overall Tequila Blanco (Silver): Teremana Blanco Tequila, $38; drizly.com or Olmeca Altos Tequila Plata, $29; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Overall Tequila Reposado (Gold): Hornitos Reposado Tequila, $22; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Tequila for Sipping: Don Julio – Añejo Tequila, $52; saucey.com or drizly.com

4. Vodka

This is a versatile spirit, so don't be afraid to buy the 1.75-liter bottle. Use it in vodka martinis, vodka Collins, sea breeze, Cape Cod, vodka & tonic, white Russians, screwdrivers, etc.

  • Best Overall Vodka: Tito's Handmade Vodka, $18; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Budget Vodka: Kirkland Signature American Vodka, $15; drizly.com
  • Best Top-Shelf Vodka: Belvedere Vodka, $22; saucey.com or drizly.com

5. Whiskey

Whiskey is an entire classification of liquor; it can refer to Bourbon, Scotch, Tennessee, Rye, Irish, Japanese, and more. Each has its own flavor profile and uses, but we recommend starting with Bourbon and/or Tennessee whiskey, as well as Rye. This will set you up for most cocktails.

Bourbon Whiskey: Used in Manhattans and old fashioned cocktails.

  • Best Overall Bourbon: Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey, $24; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Budget Bourbon: Four Roses Bourbon, $33; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Top-Shelf Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon, $52; reservebar.com or drizly.com

Blended Scotch: For drinking on the rocks, or mixing in Rob Roys (Scotch Manhattans).

  • Best Overall Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky, $32; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Budget Blended Scotch: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whiskey, $18; drizly.com and saucey.com

Single Malt Scotch: For sipping neat (without ice). There are many to try, with smoky, peaty, and caramel overtones. Experiment as your budget will allow.

  • Best Overall Single Malt Scotch: Lagavulin 16 Year, $82; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Budget Single Malt Scotch: The Glenlivet 12 Year, $61; drizly.com or reservebar.com

Tennessee, Rye, Irish, or Japanese Whiskey: Enjoyed on the rocks or in whiskey sours and hot toddies.

  • Best Overall Tennessee Whiskey: Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, $20; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Top-Shelf Tennessee Whiskey: Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, $57; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Rye Whiskey: Bulleit Rye, $25; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Irish Whiskey: Jameson Irish Whiskey, $24; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Japanese Whiskey: Suntory Toki, $32; saucey.com or drizly.com

6. Liqueurs

With so many to choose from, this is an area where you can let your personal taste be your guide. You may want to buy liqueurs that you enjoy drinking and for cooking: orange liqueur, coffee liqueur, and Irish cream are delicious in chocolate desserts. And of course, vermouth is essential for martinis (dry), and Manhattans (sweet).

  • Best Overall Sweet Vermouth: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, $37; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Budget Sweet Vermouth: Dolin Rouge Vermouth, $18; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Overall Dry Vermouth: Dolin Dry Vermouth, $18; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Budget Dry Vermouth: Martini & Rossi Extra Dry Vermouth, $13; drizly.com or saucey.com
  • Best Amaretto: Lazzaroni Amaretto, $23; drizly.com
  • Best Coffee Liqueur: Kahlua Rum and Coffee Liqueur, $18; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Irish Cream Liqueur: Baileys Irish Cream Original, $21; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Orange Liqueur: Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge Orange Liqueur, $32; saucey.com or drizly.com

Essential Mixers

Mixers are just as essential as spirits, since most standard cocktails are going to require at least one (more likely two). Having some of the more popular mixers on hand will ensure that you always have what you need to make your favorite libations.

1. Carbonated Mixers

These include tonic water, club soda, and flavored sodas like ginger beer (for Moscow mules), ginger ale, cola, etc. Not only are these popular mixers for cocktails, but it's also nice to have some on hand for non-alcoholic drinks.

  • Best Tonic Water: Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water (Pack of 24), $34; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Tonic Water: Schweppes Tonic Water, 1 L, $9; walmart.com
  • Best Club Soda: Fever-Tree Premium Club Soda (Pack of 8), $28; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Club Soda: Schweppes Club Soda, 1 L bottle, $7; walmart.com
  • Best Ginger Beer: Q-Mixer Ginger Beer, (Pack of 24), $21; walmart.com

2. Bitters

Used in Manhattans and other cocktails, bitters are spirits infused with botanicals meant to balance out cocktails containing sweet and/or sour flavors.

  • Best Bitters: Angostura Aromatic Bitters, $12; amazon.com
  • Best Bitters Variety Set: Hella Cocktail Co. Cocktail Bitters Variety Pack, $38; amazon.com

3. Grenadine

This pomegranate-colored (and, traditionally, flavored) syrup is used in Shirley Temples, tequila sunrises, and layered drinks.

  • Best Grenadine: Liber & Co. Real Grenadine, $19; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Grenadine: Barsmith Grenadine $10; amazon.com

4. Juice

Orange juice, cranberry juice, tomato juice, and all forms of citrus juice are common ingredients in mixed drinks. Sweetened lime juice is usually available in the mixer aisle with grenadine.

  • Best Sweetened Lime Juice: Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice, $4; walmart.com

5. Sweet and Sour Mix

Sweet and sour mix is a staple behind any bar. It's usually made with a mixture of lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and water. Use it to make classic cocktails like whiskey sours, amaretto sours, and, of course, margaritas.

  • Best Sweet and Sour Mix: Collins Sweet and Sour Mix, $13; amazon.com

6. Simple Syrup

Simple syrup, as the name might suggest, is simple enough to make yourself with only two ingredients: sugar and water. You can even go as far as to infuse it with berries or herbs. But if you prefer the convenience of premade simple syrup, you can find it in most grocery stores.

  • Best Store-Bought Simple Syrup: Stirrings Pure Cane Simple Syrup Cocktail Mixer, $9; amazon.com

Essential Garnishes

Though you may be tempted to skimp on garnishes, don't. Part of the fun of preparing and investing time and money into a great cocktail is the presentation. Plus, depending on the type of garnish they can add flavor to the mix as well. Keep a collection of olives (for martinis), citrus fruits and/or peels, and maraschino or cocktail cherries on hand for all your favorite drinks. You can find these ingredients at any grocery store, but specialty retailers also make them with cocktail drinkers in mind.

  • Best Cocktail Olives: Divina Castelvetrano Pitted Olives, $10; amazon.com
  • Best Cocktail Cherries: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, $23; amazon.com

Why Take Our Word For It?

Melanie Fincher is a food writer and editor for Allrecipes. An avid home cook and food journalist with experience writing news and lifestyle content, Melanie has spent the last three years working exclusively in food media. Her work can also be found in Food & Wine, MyRecipes, and Better Homes & Gardens.

Budding bartenders and home bar hopefuls, take note: How you stock your bar is essential to entertaining at home. Luckily, constructing a home bar isn’t as intimidating as it may seem. But there are a few important things to consider before making the jump from one bottle in your freezer, to several spirits, mixers, and tools on display.

To ensure your hard-earned cash is well placed, VinePair spoke to a range of bar industry professionals to seek out the most important tips. Whether you’re buying two bottles or 20, have a strong garnish game or have never used a peeler, all agreed on one central theme. “Buy good quality but don’t go overboard,” Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer at The Rum House in New York, says. “It’s not about having the most expensive products, but finding what you like. [A] process that should be fun and not bank-breaking.”

Ready to transform your living room into a private speakeasy? Here’s how to set up a home bar, according to professional bartenders.

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Spirits

“Variety is the most important consideration when setting up your home bar,” Zachary Pease, owner and beverage director at NYC cocktail hangout My Friend Duke, says. “A home bar is about entertaining, not about what you personally enjoy… so having quality options is a must.”

In other words, bourbon might be your liquor of choice, but if your bar is filled with 20 different bottles of this spirit alone, your cocktail repertoire is quite limited. On the other hand, “If you have white rum, brandy, Scotch, rye, bourbon, and gin, you can make a million drinks,” Erick Castro, co-founder of San Diego mainstays Raised by Wolves and Polite Provisions, says.

Castro advises expanding your inventory slowly and purchasing bottles based on your preferred cocktails. If you focus on one new drink each month and add the spirits and modifiers required to make it, the number of cocktails you can make will increase exponentially, especially when combined with the bottles you already have.

(Castro recommends using apps, such as Bartenders Choice, which list the drinks you can make once you’ve input your ingredients. Of course, there’s always VinePair’s cocktail recipe database, too.)

Mixers & Modifiers

Brooklyn bartender and Leyenda co-owner Ivy Mix believes there are three essential modifiers every bar should stock: vermouth (dry and sweet), Cointreau, and Campari. “Without those components, your home ‘bar’ is just a highball bar,” she says. With them, and a few standard base spirits, you can make a wide range of classic cocktails, including the Martini, Old Fashioned, Negroni, Manhattan, Boulevardier, Margarita, and more.

If you’re not regularly mixing and drinking Negronis or Martinis, Castro suggests purchasing vermouth, which is perishable, in smaller quantities and always storing it in the fridge. Alongside it, you should also stock a good supply of carbonated mixers, like tonic water and Cola. He also suggests buying glass bottles over cans or plastic, as glass retains carbon dioxide (bubbles) better.

Finally, for many classic cocktails, you’ll need a bottle of aromatic bitters. The range of flavored options is ever expanding, but at the beginning, keep things simple with a bottle of Angostura or orange bitters.

Bar Tools and Glassware

When purchasing bar tools and selecting glassware, experts agree simplicity is key.

“Really, you just need a mixing glass, bar spoon, jigger, shaker, and a Hawthorne strainer,” Castro says. He recommends buying from professional suppliers whose equipment is better quality and often less expensive than the fancy-looking utensils high street retailers offer. “If they’re not fit for commercial use, they’re definitely not good for your home bar,” he says.

For Mix, there’s one essential tool no home bar should be without. “Cocktails just don’t taste good without fresh citrus, so a little hand juicer is really invaluable,” she says. A sharp vegetable peeler, meanwhile, is crucial for your garnish game, allowing you to extract clean, attractive twists, while leaving bitter pith behind.

Like bar tools and base spirits, Castro recommends starting your collection small. A couple of attractive coupe, Collins, and Double Old Fashioned glasses are more than enough to get you going, he says. Eventually, you can expand as you need.

Ice

“I can’t overstate the importance of good ice,” Tom Baker, co-founder of Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, says. Don’t expect to find quality in the freezer tray, though. Instead, Baker says, buy a few two-inch silicone block trays online or at hardware and home stores. Not only are these trays inexpensive, they’ll “dramatically increase the flavor and presentation of your drinks,” he says.

If you’re only mixing cocktails occasionally and don’t typically put ice in your soft drinks, opt for storing ice cubes in Ziploc freezer bags. This way, they won’t pick up any unwanted aromas in your freezer (and your Martini won’t taste like frozen burrito).

Placement

While it shouldn’t necessarily dictate the layout of your kitchen or living room, there are a few factors to consider when it comes to bar cart placement. All spirits deteriorate over time, but keeping bottles away from sunlight and avoiding temperature fluctuations slows the process. “Those things are flavor killers,” Castro says, and nobody wants that.

What does a bar set up include?

How to Set Up Your Home Bar, According to Bartenders

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